(Durham NH) Souhegan ran away but couldn’t hide.
ConVal chased and chased finally catching the Sabers late in the third quarter.
Then the fun began!
“There were ebbs and flows, ebbs and flows after that,” said Souhegan coach Pete Pierce afterwards.
The Sabers came away with the DII title, 53-51, in overtime on Sunday afternoon at UNH.
“The difference was a couple of plays,” added Coach Pierce, “and luckily things went our way.”
The Cougars (18-4) had a two-point first quarter and trailed by as many as ten points in that quarter.
“ConVal is a great team, and we knew that they would go into a run,” said junior Joe Bernasconi post-game.
It took a while, but the Cougars finally tied things up (28-28) late in the third quarter after a three and a free throw from Malachi Page (11 points).
From that point on until the final thirty seconds of overtime this was a one-possession game. Exciting and crowd pleasing? You bet!
Three lead changes closed the third quarter while three lead changes and a tie score were the story of the fourth quarter.
The Cougar’s Joe Gutwein (21 points) put in the clutch free throws with a minute left to set up overtime. Both teams had a possession after Joe’s free throws. Terrific defense by Malachi Page stopped a Sabers’ drive and Austin Knight nearly ended the game with a half-court rim-out at the buzzer.
There were two more lead changes in the four-minute overtime.
Keegan Burke’s two free throws with 1:24 remaining gave Souhegan (20-1) the lead for good.
Key play ahead alert! A rebound by John McBride (15 rebounds) led to an outlet pass to Nolan Colby. Nolan looked up and saw teammate Joe Bernasconi cutting toward the basket on the other side.
“Nolan picked his head up and gave me a perfect pass,” recalled Joe. “He did all the work there. I just had to make the layup.”
And Joe did to put the Sabers up by three (49-46) in the last minute.
A steal by Nolan added a free-throw point and after another ConVal miss, Joe added two more freebies to extend the Souhegan lead to six points and seal the deal for the Sabers.
“This game could have gone either way,” said a disappointed Owen Michaels afterwards. “It felt good when we came back in the fourth quarter. I felt that we had momentum going into OT but we kind of fell apart as a team.”
Matt Canavan (19 points) took a heavy fall in the fourth quarter on a drive to the basket.
“I didn’t know what was going to happen after that,” he told me. “I just needed a few minutes to get it together and then knock down some free throws.”
“It was a fabulous game,” said Coach Pierce. “It was high school basketball at its best.”
The title was Souhegan’s first since 2004.
“This has been my dream since middle school,” said Joe Bernasconi. “I can’t even believe it right now. We came through so many challenges this season.”
6-7” John McBride saw limited action because of foul trouble but still gathered fifteen rebounds. “Those fouls are what I get for being the biggest guy on the court,” he said laughing.
“I’m just so proud of this team,” John added. “I never thought I’d really be here.”
Matt Canavan: “We knew we should win, and we were confident coming into the game. We made the plays when we had to.”
Coach Pierce: “We held them in check for a while and then we couldn’t hold them to anything. What a game!”
Great crowd at Lundholm Gym. And there was plenty to cheer about for both sides.
The only loss for Souhegan was to Lebanon on January 24th. The Sabers finished with a seven-game winning streak.
Souhegan 10 11 9 12 11 = 53
ConVal 2 15 17 8 9 = 51
Thanks to UNH’s Doug Poole for the game stats.
(The pictures will enlarge.)